Why Hyper Wellbeing is the future of mobile – part 3

Connecting body, mind and lifestyle

This continues the third part of my interview with Lee S Dryburgh, the event founder of the Hyper Wellbeing conference in Silicon Valley on November 14-16.

The first part on “The failing ‘sick care’ model” can be found here.  The second part on “The networked renaissance” can be found here.

MG: As you researched the health and wellbeing, what particularly inspired you to come up with Hyper Wellbeing?

LD: Over the past few years I have seen the effects of the the recession that started in America in 2008. When I visited poorer central and eastern European countries I saw the pain of the people first hand. I saw the bad tempers in department stores, as families could not properly afford items for their children, especially at Christmas. I saw elderly people eating out of trashcans. I watched angry protests over government policy and economics.

I couldn’t help but think: with today’s technology and science, I don’t think we have a resource issue when it comes to meeting actual human needs. And yet these people in our society are suffering from resource issues. There’s clearly something wrong.

When I saw those kids suffer in department stores, or couples break out in fights over financial woes, I knew this was harming not just this generation, but the next one too. Why are we accepting this?

The models that led to this societal stress are broken, of that there is absolutely no doubt. Healthcare possibly one of the less broken ones. It just needs to adapt, and be supplemented with new bottom-up practices in order to be less top-heavy.

Yet other societal structures are catastrophically broken. They needed to be completely replaced, going from v1.53 to 2.0. The ways in which people coordinate and organise themselves are no longer fit-for-purpose.

This period raised questions that kicked off my engineering mind. My past expertise had been in telecoms signalling systems: how to set up calls, bring them down, etc. It’s the nervous system that brings communications to life. So how do we build a better coordinating and signalling system for these different domains?

So I thought next about what if we found a new, virgin Earth and all seven billion of us got to move over to it? How would be organise it? Immediately it was clear we’d organise it totally differently! It would be unlikely that we would adopt the nation state concept and debt-based currencies for example. Instead, we would organise it around… human needs!

But what are human needs? What are the planetary resources available? How do we allocate them towards meeting actual human needs, and how do we best resolve where there is contention over them? This is an engineer’s mind-set on how we tackle problems like homelessness. It is not a naïve one of matching rooms to people, but a systemic design approach, more like how we engineer complex telecoms networks.

Then I came across a YouTube video with a chapter on human nature. It stopped me in my tracks. I felt like time had stopped. It wasn’t “Ooh! I watched a video, that’s interesting!”. No, something had been said that I just couldn’t go past. I could not let it go.

This was clearly a life-changing insight. What provoked it and how?

The bit that really touched me was Dr Gabor Maté, a physician, who spoke extremely “humanistically”. His background is in the study of addiction and childhood development. He said two things of note.

The first was that we view human beings as being selfish and competitive. But that view is demonstrably not true. It is perpetuated to keep the system we have today going, in order to prop up present day feudal landowners.

In fact, human nature is quite the reverse. When people have their innate needs met – to be heard, noticed, loved, and touched – then they become cooperative, reciprocal, and empathetic. This is quite the reverse of the majority. That is because most people in our society don’t get their needs met. As Gabor Mate said, the problems we see in society are because so few people get their most intrinsic needs met.

This tied back to my observation in the department store. We all have basic essential needs, so why doesn’t humanity organise around human needs? We all have wishes and desires, and we attempt to fulfil them differently.

For example, we accumulate wealth, but it’s just a proxy for an end goal. Accumulation might give us a sense of control and certainty. But we can organise to meet that need without the proxy to it. Besides I don’t think proxies to our needs typically work out well in the long run at meeting our needs!

So the first important thing that Gabor Maté said is that we are reciprocal and sharing when we have our basic needs met, yet society doesn’t meet those basic needs. The second thing that he said is that healthcare makes two wrong distinctions.

The first of those false distinctions is that healthcare separates the mind (our emotions and thoughts) from our physical bodies. Yet you can’t separate psychology from physiology. The other is that you can separate health from how people live their lives.

As a technologist, it struck me that we can readily measure physiology, at lower and lower costs. Quite soon such measurements will be common smartphone functionality just like the addition of a camera. We can also increasingly measure the mind and emotions, and that will only grow through do-it-yourself EEG and affective computing. We can also now measure how people live their lives with mobile, wearables and sensors.

That means we can continuously measure mental states, emotions, lifestyle and physiology without going to an institution for a limited snapshot.

Although my first instinct was to aim for political or economic system design change, I quickly discovered that was too much of an uphill battle. It tries to change too much at once, and runs into dogma. It’s like a religion or politics, where there is an automatic stimulus-response reaction to any attempt at change.

So I decided to leave that, and begin with the individual. I am certain that once we solve major pieces of the individual health puzzle, then we will discover we need to govern ourselves better, both in relation to each other, other kingdoms and indeed the planet itself. We will have the evidence of the harm, how we are cut off from each other and nature itself. The stress that results from our mutual alienation is a major source of misery and ill health.

We aren’t ready to change the macro political and economic structures yet, although there are some people leading the way in terms of thought, like Michel Bauwens. I hope that by starting with the individual we can position ourselves for those necessary changes. For example, by solving non-communicable diseases, we might begin to see that it is causes “systems wide damage” to over-accumulate.

Part 4 to follow…

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